We saw Buster on his way today. I can barely type the letters to make the words that say so. Storms of grief, followed by stretches of misted calm, take me without my leave. I'm alone in the house, so I can howl my anguish as loud as I need.
He was old and frail. Fourteen years and change. A good long life. His decline was so gradual it was hard to notice: his walks were not as long, then shorter--at the end across the street was all he cared to muster. From a little thinness in his hindquarters he became a wobbling skeleton, just ribs and hips, struggling to stay upright. At first he stumbled a little on a couple stairs bounding up to the bedroom and onto the bed Saturday mornings to cuddle with the Spouse and share coffee and the morning paper, then he had to be helped up the last flight, and finally carried both ways. He lost his reverse gear; he could not back up without falling over.
All this he took cheerfully, mostly. "Well, that happened," he seemed to say.
He returned from an unavoidable kennel boarding last week so thin and fragile that friends who'd seen him called twice during the week to check on how the B was doing. I continued to fill out faithfully the daily quality of life report card, assigning a 1-10 grade on his hygiene, hydration, hunger, hurt, happiness, mobility, and ratio of good to bad days (the "shit-to-worth ratio," we called it). This past week he wasn't breaking 50%, and on Thursday he had one of his periodic gastritis attacks, which caused him to refuse food and water, and his score dropped to around 30%. Oddly, happiness was always his best score. The boy never seemed to take his infirmities personally.
So I made the call. And of course, he rallied, and had his best day of the week. The vet came with her assistant to the house--and let me say, if you ever have to do this, see if you can do it at home, it is a blessing. The B did not leap to his feet to chase her off or jump on her in greeting, as he would have done in his youth, but he wagged his tail from his memory foam pillow. She put a needle in Buster's neck with a sedative, and he fell gradually into a gentle sleep. (I'm sorry; I'm crying again as I write this.) The she shaved a spot on his left foreleg and inserted a needle into the vein. In just a few moments, the B's breathing deepened, became more rapid, then ceased. "There," she said. "He's running with the other dogs across the fields of heaven."
I know it was the right thing to do. The vet said she thought the timing was just right. It is what I would want for myself. But.
But I had a dream last night. In it, I am on a stairway on a hill, and Buster has run at full speed (as usual) down the hill. With alarm, I notice there are tigers(!) roaming this hill, stalking tigers. I call to him--yell, really, because in this dream, for all he can run like the Golden Rocket of his youth, he is as deaf as he was at the end. He hears, and comes running back to me, the tiger in quick pursuit. Buster leaps and I reach to catch him by the collar, and strain with all my strength to pull him up and away from the rushing tiger's claws.
And then I woke, crying again--or still. My boy, my darling boy. I did everything I could, used all the strength I had, to save you from tigers your whole life, and then at the end I was the instrument of taking that life from you.
I have faith that someday I will be able to reconcile those two facts. Today I just can't.